The Mailbox offers some perspective on Arsenal’s Champions League implosion, as well as the inevitable stick for Mikel Arteta.
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Some positivity to start
With Arsenal’s defeat last night I’m sure we’ll see plenty of revisionism used to beat Arsenal for finishing 5th rather than 4th. At the start of the season not one pundit had Arsenal in the top 4, no fan apart from the most optimistic Arsenal fan did either. A rival football site ran a poll amongst its writers and it was heavily agreed Arsenal had had the worst window last summer.
This is a team that has turned over its entire playing staff in the space of 3 years. It is virtually an U23 team with a rookie coach. And a team that has played virtually the entire season without a proper striker and has played the second half of the season at least with 19 senior players. And before anyone says why did you ship so many player out in January, they could have helped, not one of them could have or was good enough. Yes Aubameyang started scoring for Barca but he wasn’t for Arsenal.
With such a thin squad we couldn’t afford injuries or suspensions, we’ve been on the receiving end of some incredibly dubious red cards whilst having numerous opponents allowed immunity to red cards against us. We also lost Partey, Tierney and Tomiyasu down the stretch – probably 3 of the 4 we really couldn’t afford to lose along with Saka. Against Newcastle Arsenal looked exactly like a team who had 4-5 days less rest than their opponents and played their last game with 10 men for 60 minutes. It was always a very tough ask.
I think the long term strategy remains exactly as it was when the club decided last season to make huge changes. Build the depth with hungry young players and trust the manager.
Well done to spurs for nicking 4th, Conte now has to convince Levy to give him some money on top of the £75m odd already committed to making the Romero and Kulesevski deals permanent and the stadium that needs financing. In the end Spurs elite front 2 proved to be the difference as most would have expected.
After a season out of Europe Arsenal fans can look forward to European football again next year which was the primary target this year.
…I imagine there’ll be a lot of mocking, vitriol and revisionism aimed at Arsenal so I thought I’d write in with a bit more of an optimistic outlook.
I’ll start by saying considering where we got to it’s disappointing that we almost certainly won’t qualify for the Champions League but just that that was on the table shows it’s been a very progressive season for Arsenal. We knew when we hired Arteta and embarked on a rebuild there would be ups, downs and marching boy frowns. We knew with a young team that results could vary wildly, we knew with a young inexperienced manager, like the players, there would be mistakes and considering all summer and for a large part of this season we weren’t even in the conversation for a top 4 place it’s impressive we ended up pushing for it by the end of the season.
People can hark back to ‘oh it’s just a shame to see how far the club has fallen’ or how Arteta should be sacked but it’s all just external noise. The club fell hard during Wenger’s last year’s and are only recovering now. The chaos behind the scenes (the power vacuum after Wenger left stalled any sort of bounce back with dodgy deals, power grabs and a rotating door of men in suits out for themselves) has stabilised to a certain extent and this season for the first time in a long time feels like the club is moving forward together.
If you look at what Arteta had when he joined and what we have now I feel he’s deserving of starting next season as Arsenal manager, he’s not without faults but another smart summer and adding more quality to compliment Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Ødegaard and an actual real life striker and there’s no reason not to assume this team will kick on again next season.
Again, it is disappointing, made even worse that it’s Spurs who will take 4th spot but it’s not the end of the world and talk to any reasonable fan (not those who shout loudest in a vain attempt to go viral) and I believe they will agree there’s more positives than negatives. Although the two main worries for me are our inability to keep players fit and the weak pressure mentality (mainly of the senior players) at the club. It’ll be interesting to read and reply to other fans opinions about it and aside from fans of other clubs who get raging hard ons for diminishing others lights to make theirs shine brighter when the dust settles there’s a lot of grey to talk about. Ultimately we weren’t good enough this year but it’s not death or glory all the time.
Lee AFC Bristol
Arsenal f***ed it
Please help me solve this riddle.
In the red corner: a manager given 3 years, the biggest summer transfer budget in Europe, full preseason, his players, endless support, trimmed squad based on his personal beef. Wage bill of £108m.
In the white corner: a manager who turned up to a s***tshow mid-season, no preseason, Spurs in 8th, spent just £20m in the January window, lost more players than he acquired in January, much smaller wage bill of just £72m, not coached in the PL for years.
Yet, one of these managers will take his team into CL football despite a season of turmoil, even improving Spurs’ head-to-head record v Arsenal and managing to beat Citeh at the Etihad. The other? Despite all the huge advantages (playing just one game a week all season, ManYoo meltdown, out of the cups ASAP) he will finish below Spurs and out of the CL. Big players would now sooner sign for Spurs than take a look at Arsenal. Fact. And yet most fans of Arsenal will back “the improvement” and accept finishing behind Spurs, claiming straw man “most predicted we’d finish 12th” and oh look, Arteta got a new contract! LOL. He’d have been sacked at any other big club after that Europa league disaster, certainly after this pathetic season. But at Arsenal, the bar keeps being lowered season in, season out. Not one single time has Arteta managed to win a PL match in which they’ve conceded first or been losing at half time. Conceded more goals than the previous season despite spending £50m on a new centre back. Lost over a third of their PL matches, losing more games than Palace and Brighton. Scored less goals than comedy ManYoo, Leicester and West Ham, having needlessly released his best goalscorer. The hall of S***e continues. And of course, as Stewie predicted (was obvious tbf): thrashed in the NLD and missed out on CL.
If Arteta managed Spurs, they would be hovering mid-table. Conversely, give Conte the conditions Arteta had over summer, and Arsenal would be ahead of Chelski and a lot closer to the Big Two.
Ask fans of the other 18 teams outside Spurs who they’d rather have managing their club and if even one club picks Arteta I’d be amazed.
Literally, zero excuses for finishing behind this Spuds team that gave Arteta a half-season head-start – but just you watch them excuses flow forth! Emery was sacked after a season where he had more points, way more goals, more wins and less defeats, with a much smaller budget.
Stewie Griffin (William Saliba is in Ligue 1 Team of the Season and won the Young POTY. Genius Arteta kept Holding on though, who kindly helped Spurs get CL football. Spuds fans buy Arteta a drink!)
…I cannot express my disappointment with this Arsenal performance. I will not go over the minutiae of strategy, setup or pick out individual players, plenty of folks will contribute that. Because for me, the disappointment was simply in the demeanor, the drive, the overall attitude. They were scared, sloppy, and not playing like a team that had so much on the line. It was Arsenal from last August. And a ton of credit to Newcastle, who played exactly how Arsenal should have; they clearly deserved this result on their own merits.
While it is true that if you had told me at the beginning of the season, especially after three losses to start, that we would have a chance at CL in Week 38 I would have been ecstatic. So for that reason, I think Arteta has done a fine job. However, it is hard not to put some of the lack of heart out there on him. I feel like getting your teams to perform when it is most needed is exactly what sets apart the great managers from the merely good managers. Arteta is not there. Can he get there? I hope so, I want him at Arsenal, but he needs to figure this out to get us to the next level.
…So that pretty much ends that, to really no great surprise.
The narrative on Thursday was that the CL place would be wasted on Arsenal but in reality neither Spurs, Arsenal or Utd really deserve to have the CL place. You could easily argue that without Euro League distraction West ham would have run it close.
Certainly that Arsenal squad does not deserve it, its hard to see how you would bring them to a competitive level in just a transfer window or two even. The fairly simple explanation is that they are just not good enough. So what then of Arteta, I was never a fan of his appointment and despite whatever improvements people say they can see in the squad I really don’t see it.
It was an excellent chance to sort the mess out without any midweek Euro distraction this season and, well, they proverbially s*&t the bed.
There is one more thing that has occurred to me though now that we reach the close of the season, in football there are no real consequences for poor performances.
Those three teams mentioned all have severely underperformed this season but guess what, the players will all either pick up where they left off next season or do it with some other club. No warnings, no wage cuts just a pat on the back and we’ll try again next year.
Whatever you say about many of the other teams at the top, at least you get effort but here it seems to be a lost art. You can make up a fair amount for a lack of skill or talent with effort, maybe not enough to get that CL place or win a trophy, but at least you can say you tried, which for the most part is really all the supporters want.
Benefactor in his own failure
In football we often see managers who are the victims of their own success. They take over at a team that’s struggling, get them punching above their weight, and once the expectations of the fans and the clubs owners rise they’re sacked for not living up to them. With Mikel Arteta he’s the only manager I can think of who has had the opposite happen. He’s been in charge for 2 and a half seasons, spent £250 million and will very likely finish the season in 5th, on 69 points (provided we actually beat Everton), which is the same league position and 1 point less than the much derided Emery achieved in his only full season with the club. His supporters will say ‘but he won the FA Cup. No he didn’t, Aubameyang and Martinez won Arsenal the FA Cup, 2 players he got rid of. His supporters will also say ‘well before the season began you wouldn’t expect top 4’ or ‘well he’s done well to come that close after that the start they had’. And this gets to the very heart of the matter. He’s created these low expectations and belief among some fans that this is the best that could be hoped for. Some of his supporters will say ‘well look how long it took for Klopp to sort Liverpool out’. They finished 4th in his first full season and he was an experienced and proven winner already with Dortmund. This was now or never for Arsenal to get back in the Champions League. No European football to tire out our players, United have been awful and Spurs inconsistent. United will no doubt improve under Ten Hag, Spurs will improve under Conte and Newcastle will break the Bank to compete this summer. We’ll be lucky to get Top 6 under Arteta. But no doubt he’ll still be in charge in 3 years time, as we battle to a 9th place finish and his supporters say ‘well a top half finish is the best we could hope for really’
Twelve minutes in
I thought I’d send this before anything happens at St James’ park tonight. Arsenal probably won’t win because they don’t have a striker. Laca has never been good enough to play as the main man and Eddie isn’t going to be that guy either.
The team are clearly doing their best but they have been let down by both management and the board when the club failed to sign a striker in January. I appreciate it’s not that easy and you can’t just buy anyone you fancy (we’re not Man City), but instead of chasing a player who was clearly going to go to Juve, we should have aimed outr sights a little lower and accepted that we are simply not a big enough club to get the very top tier players.
There must have been players out there who would have improved our goal scoring options. And before anyone says ‘who do you suggest then???’ I’d point out that is not my job. There must have been an option. Even one to fill in until we could find someone we really wanted. Instead, the likes of Saka and Smith-Rowe have been forced to step up. And step up they have, but they are young and lack experience. And they are not really goal scorers.
The same with Eddie. He’s young, inexperienced and I very much doubt he’ll be a 20 goal a season Premier League player.
We will finish 5th and that is probably right. Spurs may be about the same as us over the season, but they have Kane & Son who can make the difference. Our goal difference speaks volumes.
The team should never have been put in this position, too little depth and no decent striker. I’m still not sure Arteta is the answer either.
Of course, if we win tonight and beat Everton then I’m going to get some stick. I hope I do.
It’s the hope that kills you…
Stu, Gooner in France
Congrats to Spurs. It only took them a 9-point head start, hiring one of the 5 best managers in the game, season-ending injuries during the stretch run to 2 of our 4-5 most indispensable players – which precipitated a disasterclass from Robaldo in the alto pip the youngest squad in the league to the top 4.
On a side note, any player who thinks of going to Tottenham just so they can guarantee themselves Champions League playing time for one season would be insane to think that Tottenham is a better project right now than Arsenal. The only thing getting Spurs to top 4 right now is Conte. He will not stay, Kane and Son are getting old and they don’t have nearly as much top young talent as we do. God, I am so f*cking bitter right now.
MAW, LA Gooner
How’s Delia Smith’s cooking been lately?
It’s the hope etc.
Spiros. Gooner in Roscommon.
Peak Spursy incoming
Spurs lose to relegated Norwich and reach spursy Nirvana. Next level #spursy. Ultimate, peak, mega spursy.
It’s the hope that f*cking kills you.
Jon (Spurs, obviously), Lincoln
OK so I think we all/most owe Eddie Howe a bit of an apology. The turn around since he’s come in has been superb. The switch of Joelintin to midfield and the signings of Bruno and Burn especially have really paid dividends.
The fact that they’re in with a shout of a top 10 finish with a goal difference of -19 is insane. I don’t think they’ll get it but mid-table security is much more comfortable than the position he took over in. And a far more stable base to continue to build the club on.
Having said the above I obviously do consider the ethical issues of their ownership, unsuporrtively, and being a sunderland fan myself it’s hard to praise Newcastle at the best of times but credit to Eddie Howe he’s done a very good job.
Edward Canhands (Glad that we’re not playing Charlton in a Wembley final again but still both nervous and hopeful)
Sportswashing before our eyes
I thought the piece by Ian King on Newcastle and the Saudi Arabian sportwashing was timely. That there is no transparency is appalling. I can only think that there are legal protections in place to hide the ‘legally binding assurances’ because they will embarrass all with their toothlessness.
But I write in response to the fundamental question, ‘if we accept sportwashing exists, then how is it to be defined?’
I have no idea as I am not a real lawyer (I’m not a real doctor for that matter). But I have just experienced sportwashing first hand.
My rational brain is appalled that the Saudi regime can simply buy a globally recognised team in another country and use that as an instrument of propaganda. I swear I will never give them a penny nor the downstream version of a penny: my attention. I will simply ignore them as I intend ignoring the first World Cup to be played for blood.
But my emotional brain wants to see Arsenal lose to better Tottenham’s prospects of a top 4 finish. This puts me in a position of not only watching the North Riyadh Magpies in action but wanting them to win. I stop short of saying ‘cheering’, but should I have? If I am honest, the adrenaline coursed with both Saudi goals. So I cheered.
Rationally it’s bad, yet emotionally here we are…
Sport is recognised by regimes and despots the world over as the ideal vehicle for creating acceptance and tolerance. I really think that is all they want. They don’t want to be liked, they want to be quietly tolerated and left alone to continue in their ways, and sport facilitates that.
The emotional investment of a lifetime in a sport makes us morally complicit because despite our better judgement we cave and are compelled by our own selfishness and a detachment from the victims to watch their Olympics, their gold medals, dazzling motorsport venues, cheer for their extended football teams, and all the other things they quietly sit behind.
Meanwhile people are denied their human rights, enslaved and murdered. That is why it has to be stopped. It’s too powerful, too pervasive and too effective.
Dr Oyvind. Sick at his own behaviour.
Changing of the guard
Watching the Newcastle vs Arsenal game right after reading that the Chelsea transfer may now not go through, I wondered if we were seeing a changing of the guard.
Newcastle played well, pressed and harried and played exciting football. Something their fans would love. Meanwhile Chelsea, feel sorry for themselves with a second cup final loss and losing key players in the summer. One team using mostly existing players, play hard with nothing to play for, the other having some pretty expensive flops misfiring and some even refusing to play.
It’s hard to feel sorry for Chelsea, who showed some nasty rhetoric when their nouveaux riche-ness allowed them to top the league. Hiring a manager in Mourinho, who seemed to love the fact he could afford whomever he wanted and flaunt this nastily over other teams and managers. (His recent toxic meltdowns have been a joy to watch.)
I won’t be shedding any tears for Chelsea if this is the end of an era while hoping Newcastle don’t devolve. They are already in a grey zone considering where their wealth is coming from.
Delight for Daniels
Just a brief word on Jake Daniels.
Bravo, young man.
…Just wanted to throw my congratulations to Jack Daniels for openly coming out. I have long found it ridiculous how backwards football is when it comes to homosexuality and can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a gay footballer having to hide your identity. It is a massively brave decision to openly come out and hopefully makes our easier for others to be able to follow suit.
The recent debate on who is better out of City and Liverpool has become very tiresome, although it does seem to be Liverpool fans needing the reassurance/ acknowledgement as I’ve not seen many City fans on here going on about it.
At some stage Liverpool fans have to let go of the money part of this debate. City have seemingly limitless money but as we’ve seen with United (and to a lesser degree Chelsea) money doesn’t always guarantee success. It sure helps make things a bit easier but Liverpool are not exactly poor in this regard despite what is made out. They have the 4th highest wage bill (so are over achieving in that regard) but that only tells part of the story. Player ability also plays a massive part. Regular Liverpool fans contributing on here over the past few seasons will have everyone believe that they have the best keeper, central defender, full backs, midfield passer, captain, front 3 and January signing in the league. Some of these opinions I agree with and so why haven’t they won the league more often? City have a bigger squad and can spend £100m on Grelish people will say. But who is the better player, Grelish or Diaz? From what I can see and have heard for the past 3 months from Liverpool fans it’s Diaz so who cares if City spent £100m, their team is not better than Liverpool’s as a result. Same as City spending £50m on Walker, Liverpool fans fundamentally see TAA as the better player who cost them nothing..
It seemed to be the case that at the start of the season that it was a toss up between City and Liverpool for the title which it’s turned out to be. Liverpool fans can’t constantly dine on the fact that they’ve spent less than City over a few seasons to explain away a relative lack of domestic success when they themselves rate their team so highly. They’ve done brilliantly (through good recruitment and being in the right place at the right time with Barcelona) to be part of the conversation, but give it a rest with regards to playing the “underdogs” card all the time against big bad City.
CL or PL?
With City seemingly set to win the title and Liverpool fighting for Champions League, the question has arisen again about which is better to win. It was being debated on 606, Twitter and now the mailbox. VERY SURPRISINGLY Liverpool fans often say the Champions League is better while City fans are currently saying they’d rather win the Premier League.
However, isn’t this debate a bit silly? Surely there isn’t a correct answer. It’s like arguing whether a Chinese or Indian takeaway is better. Surely it’s a matter of preference? If you’re a Liverpool fan and you’ve grown up with the Miracle of Istanbul or the comeback against Barcelona, you’re going to appreciate the magic of the European Cup. If you are a City fan who saw AGUEROOOOO, then that’s going to influence how much you value the Premier League.
That being said, it’s clear the majority opinion in England falls on the side of the Premier League being the better trophy to win. People argue that the best team always wins the league, which isn’t true of a cup competition. That’s perfectly fair.
The interesting thing though is that doesn’t seem to be the case throughout Europe. I get the impression that for teams outside of England, European success is seen as the pinnacle. For years, Madrid were obsessed with ‘La Decima,’ the tenth European title. I don’t remember the same clamour for ‘La Trigesimo’, or their 30th domestic title. Atletico Madrid were desperate to win the Champions League in a way they didn’t seem to be for a domestic title. When Inter Milan won the treble, it was the Champions League that was seen as the crowning achievement; proof that they weren’t just champions of Italy but kings of Europe.
It’s certainly true with leagues where one team is dominant. Juventus spent £100m on Ronaldo to win the Champions League, not for their 8th and 9th domestic title in a row. PSG are obsessed with winning in Europe and Bayern Munich see the Champions League as the way to show they are an equal match for the top teams in England and Spain. They would all value the Champions League above their domestic trophy.
It seems true of players too. I’ve heard Ronaldo talk about how many Champions League trophies he has won, and clearly he wanted to win more than any other player in history. I’ve never heard him talk the same way of domestic titles. By all accounts Messi was desperate to win another Champions League with Barcelona before he left, and even now would clearly love to make it to 5 top match Ronaldo’s achievements.
To clarify, this is NOT, me saying it’s better to win the Champions League than the domestic league. It’s just interesting that across Europe, the Champions League seems to be the Holy Grail, while in England it’s the league that the majority want to win. I mean, I could be completely wrong. Any mailboxers live/lived in Europe who can confirm or deny this theory?
Mike, LFC, London
Ten Hag concern
I don’t know much about Erik Ten Hag beyond the fact that he has done a decent job in Ajax and is the new anointed one/holder of the poisoned chalice (take your pick), but he made a comment about Marc Overmars – sacked by Ajax for sending inappropriate messages and pictures (I think we can all take a wild guess what of) to various female members of staff at the club – that it would be “a romantic thought” if Overmars returned to work at Ajax with him one day.
Overmars was sacked in March.
Now I can understand him not wanting to thrown his friend under the bus, but his choice of language here – to someone who has just been binned for sexually harassing women – shows appalling judgement, doesn’t it? It diminishes what Overmars has done, and shows no respect to the women that he has done it to, making football look like an old boys network that will protect privileged members who step out of line.
I’m a bit dumbfounded by it, tbh. Don’t these people get any media training?
This does not auger well for a man who is going to be well and truly under the spotlight of the British tabloid press and the rabid football media in general. If I were a United fan, I’d be more than a bit worried about this.
Mat (trollblocker extraordinaire – and they all log off to see what I am saying)
Hayes managing men
Let me start this by saying that I am not remotely against the idea of a woman managing a men’s team. I can’t think of any argument against it that doesn’t eventually devolve into sexism.
However, we need to talk about the concept that doing well in women’s football means anything in men’s football. I’ll only mention, in passing, the games that women’s national teams have played – and lost – against academy boys teams, because they are well documented and show that there is undoubtedly a difference between the top of the women’s game, and the top of the men’s. I’ll also mention, again in passing, that the strength in depth in the women’s game is virtually non-existent, it’s why England win internationals 36-0, and it’s why women’s football is heavily subsidised by the men’s game. That’s not the fault of the women’s game, it’s just that it is still very much in its infancy – almost embryonic – compared to men’s football.
The point I’m going to make can be summed up by just one name.Vic Akers.
Does anyone think he should have been given a big job in English men’s football? Do you even know who he is? If men’s football and women’s football are comparable, then he is the most successful Arsenal manager of all time. He was also Wenger’s kit man. Why was he not touted as a tactical genius?
Look, if Emma Hayes actually wants to move into men’s football, gets a job and succeeds, then I’ll be among the first to say well done. But can we stop the intelligence insulting nonsense that says her success managing in women’s football means one jot as to what she would do in men’s football?
Jon (sadly resigned to being accused of misogyny rather than people replying to what I actually wrote), Bridgwater.
Johnny Nic was spot on in his assessment about VAR. It’s inconsistency, it’s implementation, it’s existence. It’s crap all the way around.
What made me chuckle a bit here though is that it was the Spurs handball against Burnley that finally lead to this conclusion? Yes, EVERY TEAM has been screwed over royally by inconsistent officiating, inconsistent application of the rules, and VAR, but he could have come to this same conclusion before Christmas and would have been right.
To note, there was a list of about twelve VAR “inconsistencies” that have been compiled to show how VAR has hurt my Everton this year. Yes, I’m aware that there are probably several the EVERY team in the league can complain about but TWELVE? That’s one in almost every three matches. It seems that what Johnny Nic was complaining about has definitively hurts some clubs more than others.
I’d implore the mailbox to send in the one VAR call/non-call/non-overturn that hurt their team the most. Leeds supporters, Burnley supporters, Arsenal supporters, all of you, I’d love to hear your worst.
For Everton, we’ve had a bunch but, it had to be the non-call on the Rodri handball in the box the denied us a penalty against City. That might even be the one that galls the Liverpool fans more than anyone. A VAR call that directly affected their team in a game they weren’t even playing in.
TX Bill, EFC
…Nic, Lancaster. I have always thought that VAR should be implemented on a challenge basis, similar to cricket so agree with your 2nd point.
The rest, sorry but no; the whole reason we find ourselves in the situation we currently have with confusion over the rules is because they are constantly being changed/tweaked and overcomplicated which introduces more “grey” areas and leads to moaning about perceived injustices.
I’d welcome Emma Haynes to Ewood on a flash, although I do think she’d see it as a step down unfortunately.